NI: Ford reflects on experience as first Justice Minister
David Ford reflected on his experience as Northern Ireland’s first Justice Minster since the St Andrews Agreement in a speech given at Ulster University.
In a speech titled The Social Value of Justice, Mr Ford spoke about devolution and his achievements and regrets during his term.
He also spoke of his disappointment that “increasingly restrained resources” since 2010 had prevented innovative new ideas from being put into practice.
Mr Ford will step down as Justice Minister after the May elections.
In his speech, he said he regretted that political agreement could not be reached on legislating for a presumption against sentences less than three months, an increase in the age of criminal responsibility to 12, and the legalisation of abortion in cases of fatal foetal abnormality.
Speculating on challenges for his successor, he said: “In the next mandate, I anticipate that the design of the civil and family justice system and the structure and administration of our tribunals will be among the top priorities for delivering access to justice. But coming to court or to a tribunal is not necessarily the best or only solution in all cases.
“We need to find new and better ways to enable individuals to settle their personal disputes as efficiently as possible and move on with their lives. We are already interested in the opportunities which technology might afford for online dispute resolution, where automated pathways support parties in reaching an agreed outcome.
“Mediation, in appropriate cases, is another way to achieve the same end.”
He concluded his speech: “I am enormously proud to have been the Justice Minister. I leave you with this final thought, of which I am even more sure now than I was in 2010. It is that while justice is a system, it is also an ethos. An ethos that should not only guide what we do, but how we do it.
“Justice needs to be delivered with fairness and also with compassion. It needs to protect and it needs to offer second chances. Justice needs to be in the fabric, in the vocabulary, and in the values of society. I hope that devolution, and what we have done with it over the past six years, has made a genuine contribution to that.”